Thursday, February 11, 2010
Shovels, snowblowers and sunshine spread up and down the East Coast on Thursday, as the region began digging out from a powerful storm that added a fresh coat to a long, white winter.
The second of back-to-back snowstorms smothered the East Coast on Wednesday and early Thursday, easily eclipsing record seasonal snow totals. It then pushed off into the Atlantic. More than a month still remains in the season, but already Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Baltimore have logged their snowiest winters in history.
In Washington, the federal government planned to be closed for a fourth straight day, while city agencies and schools in the hardest-hit regions also scored snow days.
Paul Kocin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., said the storm compares to some of the greatest ever largely because of its timing. He estimated 50 million people were affected.
The latest storm dumped over 19 inches in Baltimore, 10 inches in the District of Columbia and 16 inches in Philadelphia. About 20 inches fell in central New Jersey and totals ranged from 10 to 16 inches around New York City.
Several days of clearer weather are expected in the mid-Atlantic, but forecasters are already warning of possible snow showers returning by Monday.
The storm had halted flights throughout the mid-Atlantic region, but by Thursday morning flights began to arrive at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Both of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport's two main runways reopened, but officials warned that flight cancellations would continue through the morning because of the storm.
One primary runway was open at Philadelphia International Airport on Thursday morning and a second was scheduled to open later in the morning, said airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.
Crews have been working to clear runways and taxiways around the clock and airlines are resuming limited schedules of flights in and out of Philadelphia.
Officials expect the airlines to cancel some scheduled flights but conditions are fine for flying in Philadelphia, Lupica said.
In Philadelphia, road crews worked to clear Interstate 76 and I-676, which closed Wednesday to leave the city of 1.5 million residents with only one usable major artery. Authorities reopened the two routes Thursday morning.
The D.C. Department of Transportation urged motorists to stay off city streets Thursday morning to keep them clear for emergency-response, tree and road crews.
Emergency officials in eastern Pennsylvania reported more than 200 vehicles, mostly trucks, stranded Wednesday along I-78. Officials said gasoline, food and water were delivered to the stranded drivers before plows could clear paths for them by midnight, but the roadway remained closed on Thursday.
In northeast Maryland, staffers at the Harford County Emergency Operations Center fielded several calls per minute from residents struggling to meet the financial demands of a second snowstorm just days after the first. One woman called to say she couldn't afford to stay at her motel another night and was about to be evicted. Homeless shelters were full, forcing the county to pay for motel rooms for some people.
"We really can't have people pushed out into the snow," said Scott Gibson, the county's director of human resources. "The motels are our second line of defense."
Electric crews in New Jersey were working to restore power to about 46,000 homes and businesses that lost electricity. NJ Transit agency resumed bus routes Thursday morning and opened nearly all train stations so residents could try to get to work.
Airlines, Retailers Weigh Impact
Sales of shovels, groceries and booze mounted with the snows, but for airlines and department stores, the region's wintry weather meant millions of dollars of lost revenue.
Airports had been closed from Washington to New York City, a further blow to an industry that has been forced to cancel thousands of flights in the past week. They began reopening Thursday.
Travelers were stopped in their tracks at airports far outside the snow zone. But the major airlines said it was too early to put a dollar figure on the storms' impact, in part because carriers typically reduce the number of available flights anyway in February.
Robert Herbst, an aviation consultant, said many customers will ask for credits toward future travel instead of refunds, which should also work in the airlines' favor.
For shopping malls and department stores, the loss of revenue may be permanent.
Dan Hess, CEO of research firm Merchant Forecast, said a snowstorm of this magnitude can knock down sales by 10 to 25 percent for the week. When it happens in the slow months of January and February, "you don't make that business back up," he said.
Federal Government Still Shut Down
In Washington, officials were tallying up the cost of the double-barreled snowstorms after the federal government shut down yet again. About 230,000 federal workers in Washington have been off since Friday afternoon, when the first storm began.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's representative in Congress, asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency to provide funds to help the nation's capital recover.
Norton said the city does not have a state government's financial reserves to fall back on in an emergency.
The U.S. House announced it is scrapping the rest of its workweek. Several hearings and meetings in Congress and federal agencies were postponed, including one planned to address Toyota's massive recalls.
Officials estimate that the cost to U.S. taxpayers is around $100 million a day in lost productivity. But the effects of the federal government's closure are negligible because about 85 percent of federal employees work outside the Washington region. An IRS spokeswoman said tax returns should not be affected.
From NPR staff and wire service reports.